As was the case with Apple a month ago, Google’s press event today was largely ruined by leaks. But unlike Apple, Google had some substance to its message, and it announced new Pixel 2 smartphones and accessories, Google Home smart devices, and a new Chromebook 2-in-1 called Pixelbook. It even escaped the leakers with some of its most innovative product announcements.
“For this wave of computing to reach new breakthroughs, we have to build software and hardware that can bring more of the potential of AI into reality, which is what we’ve set out to do with this year’s new family of products,” Google senior vice president Rick Osterloh writes.
Google announced these things in a different order, but I thought I’d start with the most important new product: The new Pixel and Pixel XL. These two phones are pretty much as rumored, but in a nice twist, Google was able to reveal that it has once again has the best camera of any smartphone: With a score of 98/100, the Pixel 2 handily beats the Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (94), iPhone 8 (92), and even last year’s Pixel (90), which was for most of the past year the best smartphone camera.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have refined designs that are less iPhone-like than before, especially the XL, which has a near bezel-less 6-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio that resembles the Samsung Galaxy S8+ but with the curves. (The Pixel 2 looks a lot like last year’s phone).
Both offer squeezable sides for launching Google Assistant, stereo speakers, water-resistance, an even more accurate fingerprint reader, and improved fast charging. On the bad news front, Google has removed the headphone jack and supplies a USB-C dongle instead.
I’m really excited about the Pixel 2 XL, in particular, and though the pricing is a bit on the high side—$649 (64 GB) or $749 (128 GB) for the Pixel 2 and $849 (64 GB) or $949 (128 GB) for the Pixel 2 XL—I’ve ordered one. Availability is expected for mid-November, with Pixel 2 coming in Just Black, Clearly White and Kinda Blue colors and Pixel 2 XL in Just Black and Black & White.
In addition to the phones, Google announced several Pixel accessories, including an innovative pair of headphones, a new round of colors for the Daydream View VR headsets, and a Google Clips wireless camera accessory that sends clips to your phone. The headphones are the most interesting. Dubbed Pixel Buds, these wireless headphones include an integrated Google Assistant and provide real-time language translation functionality like the Babbelfish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“Say you’re in Little Italy, and you want to order your pasta like a pro,” Google explains. “All you have to do is hold down on the right earbud and say, ‘Help me speak Italian.’ As you talk, your Pixel phone’s speaker will play the translation in Italian out loud. When the waiter responds in Italian, you’ll hear the translation through your Pixel Buds. If you’re more of a sushi or French food fan, no need to worry—it works in 40 languages.”
Moving past the phones, Google also announced its first new Chromebook PC in two years, the Google Pixelbook. Dubbed a 4-in-1—or what we call a convertible in the Windows PC world—the Pixelbook provides a 12.3-inch display, Core i5 or i7 processors, 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM, and 128 GB to 512 GB of PCIe-based NVMe SSD storage.
As you might expect, the Pixelbook can be used in standard laptop mode, like a (thick) tablet, or in stand or presentation modes. It’s the first Chromebook with Google Assistant built-in, and it supports an optional (and $99) Pixelbook Pen that offers better latency than Apple Pencil or the new Surface Pen, tilt support, and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The Pixelbook is a premium device, sadly, with pricing starting at $999 and escalating all the way up to $1649.
Google also expanded the Google Home lineup with two new devices, the tiny Google Home Mini and the Sonos-like Google Home Max.
Google Home Mini is exactly what it sounds like, a small and cute new Google Home, similar to the Amazon Echo Dot, that can optionally work with an external wired speaker. Mini comes in three colors—Chalk, Charcoal and Coral—and costs just $49.
Google Home Max looks like a response to the Apple HomePod. It’s a huge Google Home smart speaker with premium sound, booming bass, two color choices (Chalk and Charcoal), and an Apple-like price tag of $399. But it does come with 12 months of ad-free YouTube Music too.
I’ll be offering a deeper analysis of at least the Pixel 2 XL tomorrow. I need a chance to read up on this stuff and rewatch the presentation first.